It’s fair to say that service with Special Forces changes a person and that the process of profound change commences on the selection course. Reflecting on the selection course that I underwent more than a decade ago, I can see that it was a pivotal point in my life both personally and professionally.

I entered the Australian Army at age 23 on a scholarship to study medicine after a failed attempt at a career as a professional triathlete. I first became aware of Special Forces a year later through my brother, who had successfully completed selection for the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). From the moment I got a glimpse at what that unit did and met some of the blokes involved, I was hooked and I had to be a part of it.

As it transpires, it would take me seven more years to be allowed to attempt SASR selection, and I would spend the five years subsequent to that serving with Australian Special Operations, including four tours of Afghanistan. I am not the same person now that I was when I stepped up for selection all those years ago. My service has changed me. I can see now that the process of change for me truly began on the SASR selection course, and the following are the two key lessons that I took away from those three grueling weeks.

Persistence is key

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge sums up eloquently what I’m trying to convey:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

From the outside, there is a perception that Special Forces soldiers are a superhuman species endowed with physical and psychological attributes out of the reach of the average person. While I accept that there are some exceptional, genetically-gifted individuals among SF units worldwide, in my experience, for the most part, SF is made up of average guys and girls with above-average persistence. I know this because I am one of them. I stand 175 cm tall (5-foot-6), weighing 70-odd kilograms (154 pounds) on a heavy day, and I was the smallest officer on my selection course by a decent amount. When I toed the starting line of the course, I had spent a mere 18 months in uniform, having spent the six years of my army career previous to that in medical school, then working as a junior doctor in civilian hospitals to gain experience before my first posting to an army unit.

Two key lessons I learned from Special Air Service selection